Seven Places to Watch on the Shores of the Anacostia

As the Anacostia becomes the focus of shoreline development, will natural resources suffer

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Rendering of the Donatelli-Blue Skye Hill East Project, showing the two mixed-use buildings with entrance to Stadium-Armory Metro in foreground. The project will provide a total of 353 residential units.

The Anacostia is coming to the attention of folks from all over the region. There’s the recent opening of the first combined sewer overflow controls in the metro area. The toxic clean-ups at the old industrial sites. The plan to handle contaminated sediments due to be finalized this year, leading toward a swimmable, fishable river. The new soccer stadium and bridges for pedestrians and bicycles planned for 11th Street and the National Arboretum. The growing development behind Yards Park and on the southwest waterfront. These and more are adding to the buzz about the Anacostia.

All this is very exciting. But it also presents challenges in terms of access, impact on views, and the loss of natural areas, all benefits we enjoy from efforts to date. We cannot allow ourselves to be complacent. As the area becomes more attractive, more people want to live near and along the river and more offices want to relocate here, and some of the things we have most come to enjoy could be threatened. Much can be done with good design and thoughtful planning, but there are times and places to remain alert. Here are seven places to keep an eye on, not necessarily because they are causing problems, but simply because their scale means impacts we need to recognize in advance and accommodate to the degree we can.

Buzzard Point
After two hundred years of being neglected and ignored except for occasional use such as a dumping ground for dead horses in the pre-auto era, the area below the new soccer stadium and alongside Fort McNair has taken off as a prime area for redevelopment. The Vision Framework and Design Review Guide issued last November by the DC Office of Planning envisions in the entire area below P Street SW a total of 6,000 residential units, over 3 million square feet of office space and 1000 hotel rooms. This seems hard to believe on a triangle of that size, but work has already begun on the rehab and conversion of the old office buildings scattered around the area, the soccer stadium will be ready in a matter of months, and other mixed-use projects are underway. The city has set three goals:

  • a well-designed waterfront neighborhood with innovative architecture;
  • dynamic parks, public spaces and waterfront with first floor public use and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail running the entire length; and
  • A well-connected transportation network to deal with few streets and distant Metro stations (Waterfront and Navy Yard).

It seems there is little to be concerned on-site here since the area is currently so little used. But those in nearby southwest will need to help the city find solutions to the heavy traffic congestion likely to result in their neighborhoods.

Poplar Point
Just over the South Capitol Street Bridge from Buzzard Point lies Poplar Point, a 130-acre parcel that runs along I-295 from there to the 11th Street Bridge. The land was authorized to be transferred from the National Park Service to the city by Congress in 2006, but there have been a number of hold-ups related to (1) relocating the Park Service and US Park Police Headquarters to another site; (2) completion of an investigation of toxic and pesticide pollution (the site was used by the Navy Yard for disposal and by the DC Government and Architect of the Capitol for plant nurseries) and development of a remedial action plan; and (3) development of an area plan by the city and environmental impact and historic preservation reviews by the Park Service.

A developer has been chosen by the city and has come up with a plan for the area which includes 70 acres kept in parkland, 4,100 residential units, 1.2 million square feet of office space, 465,000 square feet in retail and 600 hotel rooms. All of which is in line with the long-term plan for this until-now underutilized site along the Anacostia. This project seems to be on a slow track for the moment as all the above studies and relocations are worked out. However, it is also said that the site is on the list to be offered to Amazon for its new headquarters, for which DC is one of the finalists.   Keep alert, because if that were to happen this project could move fast! For many the key issue will be the impact on views along the River that this density of development will necessarily have. If both Poplar Point and Buzzard Point move head as planned, the final half-mile of shoreline on both sides of the Anacostia will be in high-rise buildings with a narrow strip along the water, which may be entirely appropriate for the center of a large metropolitan area.

Capitol Hill East – Reservation 13
This is the area of the old DC General Hospital and includes the land between 19th St. SE on the west from Congressional Cemetery to the RFK parking lots and on the east the Park Service strip along the river. It has been the source of much anxiety for the nearby neighborhoods for many years, especially when the city took the land away from Ward 6 where those neighborhoods are located. It currently includes the DC Jail complex, an older building being used by the city for homeless families, and a number of unused or underused buildings with medical labs and storage. It is another property that the City is said to be holding is reserve to respond to an Amazon proposal.

Progress is being made on the first phase of development of this parcel. By the time you read this, there will have been a ground-breaking ceremony for two mixed use buildings of four stories each along 19th St. SE between Massachusetts Ave. and the Metro entrance. They will comprise 353 residential units and 25,678 square feet of retail. The architecture seems in character with the adjacent Capitol Hill neighborhood. While this will mark real progress in what seemed to many to be and endless process, the real question is what will happen to the remaining parts of the Reservation?   And when? And when will folks be told? Stay close to this one.

Other Areas To Watch
The remaining four locations are places where the development is at nowhere near the same scale, but there are still reasons to watch.

  1. The RFK Stadium area – Events DC is in charge of the redevelopment of the area around the RFK stadium. They have played down re-use or re-building the stadium and, in response to neighborhood priorities, have set out a plan to emphasize local athletic facilities, with some under cover to the south of the stadium and others on open fields to the north.   They have also proposed covered spaces for a farmer’s market and other community uses. The chief remaining concern is whether politics will overrule this consensus after the election when there is a sense a new stadium proposal may rear its head.
  2. Kingman and Heritage Islands – These islands in the river between the stadium and Benning Road serve as an environmental education center run by Living Classrooms. A large part of the southern half of Kingman has been designated by the Mayor a “state park” to be preserved in a natural state. At the same time, Events DC has proposed several new bridges connecting the islands to the shoreline, including one to River Terrace on the Anacostia side. All these efforts need to be sorted out in coming months, and neighborhood groups on both sides are the key to getting it right. Meanwhile, projects like covered classroom space seem to be on hold.
  3. 3.Langston Golf Course – This one is a sleeper and should be watched. The Park Service is in the midst of off-loading management of its three golf courses in the area. One of these is Langston on the river above Benning Road. The Federal City Council, led by ex-Mayor Tony Williams, is seeking the contract. As part of the deal they are trying to negotiate at high levels of the Federal government to get some benifits like more parking space that could affect natural areas and the river. They are not revealing their desires or proposals to the public.
  4. 4.Site of the Kenilworth Dump — On the Anacostia side we have the site of the old Kenilworth City Dump, used for years as athletic fields but now allowed to go into disrepair due to the presence of high pollution levels right below the surface. It is an enormous land area right along the river with great potential for use as the locations of boat ramps and marinas, including large parking lots. When the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail was being built, the decision was made to avoid the parcel and take the trail up into residential areas and back down past the dumpsite. At the time, it was said to be because the site needed to be cleaned up, but nothing seems to be happening. Maybe a time to light some fires under a few folks?

So pick a cause from among the seven above and see what you can do to make our river an even better place to live near, walk and bike and boat along, and eventually swim and fish in. It has been people like you that have gotten us this far and you will be key to getting us even more!

 

Bill Matuszeski writes monthly about the Anacostia River. He is the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, a DC member the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Anacostia River and a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River.